In every port, Crystal offers a menu of shore excursions that range from standard tours such as "Panoramic Copenhagen" and "Stockholm Sights," aimed at first-time visitors, to more eclectic choices like "Kayaking in Copenhagen" and an art tour of Stockholm. A handful of tours for late-risers is available. In most cities, there's a (gentle) recreational tour that includes hiking, cycling or kayaking. All tours are priced a la carte. Keep an eye out for the occasional "boutique adventure"; on our Baltic cruise, we were particularly intrigued by the chance to take a Formula One powerboat ride in Helsinki or visit a private Faberge egg museum in Saint Petersburg.
Reservations can be made via Crystal's website ahead of time -- and we recommend that you do as much advance planning as possible because tours do book up. The concierge can also recommend and arrange private tours for an additional cost.
Crystal has long operated its pioneering "You Care. We Care" series of voluntourism tours. They're available on select itineraries and can range from reading to children to painting a school. There's no charge to participate.
Daytime and Evening Entertainment
Whether you stay onboard while the ship is in port or are geared up for a busy day at sea, Crystal schedules plenty of diversions, most of which are traditional cruise activities, such as bingo, needlepoint, napkin folding and wine tasting. The line excels in enrichment opportunities, detailed below. There's a well-stocked library with comfortable cubbies for reading, and the Hollywood Theater cinema on Deck 6 shows almost-first run matinees and evening flicks (with fresh popped popcorn and drinks service). The Resorts World At Sea casino, also on Deck 6, has blackjack, roulette, three card poker, Ultimate Texas Hold'em, and slot and video poker games.
The Bridge Lounge, a space that also doubles as a presentation locale with a new podium and A-V system, has convertible game tables.
Evenings are a bit more low-key. The Starlite Club, where the Crystal Sextet is the resident band, is the spot for pre- and post-dinner dancing; the ship has gentleman hosts available to swirl solo travelers around the floor. A DJ entertains the late-night crowd here from midnight to "late" (whenever the last reveler is done). This is also the spot for daytime lectures during sea days.
The Galaxy Lounge, the ship's main theater venue, offers a range of created-just-for-Crystal dance and song performances, along with solo vocalists and the occasional comic act. Its "The Rocket Man" show, featuring the work of Elton John was superb, though some other production performances, such as "Route 66" and "5-6-7-8," seemed rather sophomoric. Shows are typically presented twice an evening. (For instance, on one night a performance by a soprano and cellist was held at the Galaxy Lounge at 8:30 p.m. and again at 10 p.m., while a film at the Hollywood Theater got a pair of showings at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m.)
Crystal's reputation for outstanding enrichment is well deserved, and itineraries almost always involve multiple days at sea that are so jam-packed with fascinating options it could be hard to find time to eat! Its Creative Learning Institute features language learning via Berlitz, health and wellness through the Cleveland Clinic and the art of tai chi from the Tai Chi Cultural Center. As well, Crystal Visions, the line's vibrant expert speakers' program, features household names and less-familiar-but-equally-fascinating experts in fields of politics, sports, finance and history.
For those interested in painting, sculpture or crafts, Odyssey Art at Sea offers a series of workshops each cruise hosted by art specialists. (On our trip, a watercolorist held three sessions, followed by a gallery showing, shipwide, of work we picked to display.)
The Computer University @ Sea, which on Crystal originally aimed to help computer neophytes learn basic skills, has morphed into an even more sophisticated operation as passengers have also acquired superior skills. A partnership with the USC School of Cinematic Arts has resulted in classes on making videos via iPad; on our trip, these were so popular they were standing room only.
Crystal Symphony Bars and Lounges
Crystal Symphony has a range of bars and lounges that each have their own ambience and style.
Crystal Cove (Deck 5): Tucked beneath a dazzling waterfall, this horseshoe shaped bar, with a scattering of couch and armchair settings, lies in the atrium, the heartbeat of Crystal Symphony. It's often crowded for pre-dinner drinks since the Crystal Dining Room is nearby, but other times it can be serene, punctuated only by the soothing sounds of the water falling.
Starlite Club (Deck 5): Large and sprawling, this secondary theater is ringed by an almost-afterthought of a bar but it's a lively spot for watching dancing and listening to lecturers. A DJ spins tunes until late.
Avenue Saloon (Deck 6): An upscale interpretation of a saloon, this bar is definitely not seedy. It's elegantly dark-paneled, with a long L-shaped mahogany bar and brown-stained plantation shutters, and it feels like something out of a 1930s movie. There's just a piano here -- think Johnny Mercer, Noel Coward, Cole Porter -- and it's usually a quiet place to chat and sip. Watch out though for karaoke night! It's a hoot, and it's usually packed.
The Connoisseur Club (Deck 6): Tucked next to the Avenue Saloon, this small but elegant room is the only spot onboard for cigar smoking.
The Trident Bar (Deck 11): This casual bar, with its location between the ship's main pool and the Lido Cafe, is lively during the daytime.
The Palm Court (Deck 11): Gleaming, sleek and sophisticated, the Palm Court is Crystal Symphony's best observation spot, located top of the ship and forward. It hosts popular events, like afternoon tea and meet and greets, and between activities is a casual spot to relax onboard. It also serves as the ship's elegant dancing spot, with gentleman hosts to dance with ladies.
Crystal Symphony Outside Recreation
The "big event," sports-wise, on Crystal Symphony revolves around the ship's paddle-tennis court. It is always (or so it seemed) busy! Another popular spot is the full, wraparound promenade deck for walking and jogging; 3.7 laps equals a mile.
Crystal offers an interesting fitness program for walkers. Called Walking on Water, it basically consists of cotton vests with pockets for weights that add resistance. The vests are loaned out on a complimentary basis, and the workout definitely requires a comfortable bit of extra exertion. (Try the vests while walking stairs if you are really feeling energetic.)
The pool deck is one of the areas that changed the most during Symphony's last refit. One pool, the Neptune, and its adjacent Jacuzzi, have been taken away (see Dining, above) to create extensive outdoor seating around the Trident Bar & Grill. The area surrounding the main Crystal pool (a proper lap pool) also received a makeover. The two small whirlpools are gone, and a huge, 20-person Jacuzzi has been installed, great for socializing on cool-weather cruises.
New deck furniture creates a plush, contemporary look. Featured are white loungers and circular double sun beds in white rattan with splashes of burnt orange and turquoise in the cushions that add a bright, summery touch.
A golf driving range is almost always accompanied by an onboard pro golf instructor. Ping-Pong tables have their own netted off courts, and shuffleboard is a popular game.
Crystal Symphony Services
The ship's service desks -- customer service, shore excursions and concierge -- are located in the Crystal Plaza, Symphony's atrium, on Deck 5. As well, there's a medical facility on this deck with rather more generous operating times than on many ships; here it's open from 9 a.m. to noon and again from 2 to 6 p.m. Emergency service is available around the clock.
Ringing the Crystal Plaza is a series of shops that sell perfumes, expensive jewelry and watches, and clothing, both logo-wear and more formal attire.
An Internet Center on Deck 6 offers a dozen terminals and on-site staffers to assist with questions. A handful of the terminals are dedicated readers, with complimentary access to a selection of newspapers and magazines.
Wi-Fi is accessible in cabins and throughout the ship. All Crystal Symphony passengers are entitled to 60 minutes of free Wi-Fi connectivity per day (Penthouse categories and up receive additional time). After that, Wi-Fi is available at a cost. There are four plans. You can "pay as you go" for a pretty pricy 74 cents per minute, or buy one of three packages, ranging from an extra two hours of access for $55, which works out to 46 cents per minute, up to 10 hours of access for $220, translating to 37 cents per minute.
Crystal Symphony has three complimentary self-serve laundry and ironing facilities. Soap and dryer sheets are provided. These are found on decks 8, 9 and 10.